In a breakthrough trial, scientists have discovered that a common diabetes drug “significantly reverses memory loss” in mice that have Alzheimer’s disease, a disorder that affects 5.5 million Americans.
Finding effective ways to tackle Alzheimer's is of top priority, so discovering that a drug normally used to treat type 2 diabetes can actually reverse the disease – at least in mice, anyway – is exciting. The findings are published in the journal Brain Research.
According to lead researcher Professor Christian Holscher, the drug "holds clear promise of being developed into a new treatment for chronic neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease."
"With no new treatments in nearly 15 years, we need to find new ways of tackling Alzheimer's,” added Dr Doug Brown from Alzheimer’s Society. “It's imperative that we explore whether drugs developed to treat other conditions can benefit people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia."
The new drug is known as a triple receptor drug, meaning that it targets Alzheimer’s in multiple ways. People with Alzheimer’s have impaired growth factors – substances like hormones that stimulate growth – in their brains. Therefore, the treatment combines three growth factors: GLP-1, GIP, and glucagon.
The drug was tested on mice genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s. The animals were injected with the triple receptor drug every day for two months before being subjected to a maze test.
After treatment, elderly mice in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s showed better learning and memory formation when completing the test. Their rate of nerve cell loss declined, they had fewer Alzheimer’s-linked plaques in their brains, and they had higher levels of a brain growth factor that protects nerve cell functioning.
While it is important to remember that these results have only been shown in mice, not people, they are certainly still exciting. In fact, another diabetes drug, called liraglutide, has already shown promise in trials on people with Alzheimer’s, so there is hope that the new treatment will have a beneficial effect on humans with dementia.
"Clinical studies with an older version of this drug type already showed very promising results in people with Alzheimer's disease or with mood disorders," said Holscher.
It might seem strange that diabetes drugs can be used to reverse Alzheimer’s, but surprisingly, the two conditions are actually linked. Type 2 diabetes is known to be a risk factor in Alzheimer’s, and a lack of insulin, which is caused by diabetes, can increase the likelihood of brain degeneration. Therefore, eating healthily and avoiding diabetes could reduce your risk of Alzheimer's.
Although the new drug is a long way from reality, let’s hope that one day it will have a beneficial effect on not only mice, but people too.